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THE RELUCTANT GOURMET

Pouring over coffee

SHONALI MUTHALALY

From Monsooned Malabar to frappuccinoes and filter coffee…taste the romance of the hot, strong, dark cuppa



The hot choice Coffee has also captivated the new generation

The romance of whipping rain. The drama of darkened skies. The theatre of whistling wind. As dense clouds slowly gather for their annual performance, we're soaking up the delightful sense of anticipation in the air, even as we make mental monsoon menus.

Summer might be great for mangoes and street cricket, but India's always been partial to the rains. Even Shakespeare, beloved by English teachers from Gurgaon to Gummidipundi, must be discounted when he comes up with bloopers like “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” Any man who tries that line is asking to be clobbered with your meanest handbag. Sunshine's too reminiscent of breathless humidity, sweaty crowds and bad tempers to be flattering.

The rains on the other hand are deliciously evocative. They conjure up fluffy quilts and racy novels. Schmaltzy movies and maudlin love songs. Onion pakodas and spicy mint chutney.

And coffee. Hot, strong and dark.

As a nod to the season try some Monsooned Malabar. Cool, wet and heavy monsoon winds captured in a cup. The first ‘monsooning' happened by accident, when a shipload of coffee bound for Europe reached its destination transformed. En route the moisture had swollen the beans, enhancing the flavour, and making them mellow, sweet and musky.

Today monsooned coffees (Monsooned Malabar, Monsooned Basanally and Monsooned Robusta) are prepared between June and September, so they can soak in all the vagaries of the weather. Packed loosely in gunny bags, they're stacked with lots of breathing room enabling the damp winds to circulate, so the beans swell to double their size and turn a pale gold.

This technique renders the coffee ‘potent, pungent and wild, great for those who like strong deep, musty flavours,' according to Australian Quest coffee roasters (just one of the many cafes around the world celebrating the quirks and strengths of Indian coffee beans.)

While the world's biggest exporter is Brazil, India exported 50,802 metric tonnes of coffee to Italy last year (figures from The Coffee Board of India records). The Russian Federation, Germany and Belgium are India's other big buyers. The 45 countries listed also include Croatia, Israel and China. Chairman of the Coffee Board Jawaid Akhtar says Indian growers are also getting premium prices for their coffee in international markets.

Although, we don't really ask about bean origins when we order our caffeine, Indian coffee actually spans 60 distinctive coffees from 13 regions. Set at different altitudes, with individual micro-climates, every region produces a coffee that's unique, and true to its roots. Each with a history of its own.

Bababudangiri's in Karnataka for instance has been named in honour of Saint Bababudan, who according to legend discovered coffee when he was served qahwah en route to Mecca. Since the Arabs guarded their coffee fiercely, he hid seven seeds to bring to India. When he got here, he planted them in Chikmaglur, Karnataka.

Akhtar says the last three years have been rough on the coffee trade as a result of crop disease and unseasonal rains, resulting in a fall of between 5 and 10 per cent in production. Yet, he adds, it's not all bad news. The flavour of Indian coffee, subtle yet intense, full bodied and aromatic has captivated a new generation. “The youngsters drink a lot of coffee now, often in cafes such as Barista and Coffee Day” he states, adding, “Starbucks also offers Indian coffee all over the world.”

Though the cappuccinos, mochaccinos and frappuccinoes can just move over, considering we have a world of indigenous ways to drink coffee right here. Filter coffee in a steel tumbler so satisfyingly hot you can barely lift it. Steamy coffee from a roadside stall, thick with milk and sugar. Coffee fluffy with cream and laced with aromatic cardamom.

Perfect for the land of monsooned coffee. Where we've captured a storm in a tea cup. Where we truly understand the unique flavour of untamed winds, drenched darkness and lashing rain.

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